The CSS Blog Network

The Great Recession: Sliding Out of Memory?

World economy cracked beyond repair? Photo: Jack Keene/flickr

As Asian economies keep posting positive growth numbers with the momentum for a full recovery shifting irreversibly to the East, and as banker’s bonuses and Wall Street profits return to pre-2007 days, the temptation to look away from the root causes of the global financial crisis is as great as ever. But has the chance to learn a valuable lesson really just been lost in the face of a fragile recovery?

Some resources from our Digital Library to help you answer this key question:

Keyword in Focus: Euro

Europe on a shoestring, photo: Howard Lake/flickr

With Spain next on the list of eurozone countries on the brink of financial abyss, nerves about the future of the great European experiment are at an all-time high. The narrative of the euro’s crisis seems self-fulfilling as  markets move from one financially challenged euro country to the next, and after the Irish bailout, Portugal and Spain seem to be next in line, with cups in their hands and market speculators on their backs.

The collapse of the Spanish economy, with its overstretched banks, chronically high unemployment and a much larger economy than previous recipients of EU/IMF bailout money, is a particularly worrying prospect, yet European leaders seem committed to saving the euro. Even Britain’s George Osborne, the deeply euro-skeptic Chancellor of the Exchequer, acknowledged last week that despite not joining the euro (and still thinking it was a bad idea- “Hah, I told you so!”), it is in Britain’s interest to help with the bailout efforts and to ensure that neighboring countries like Ireland are repaired and revitalized.

With the air of crisis set to loom over Europe for months to come, EU leaders and Europhiles everywhere must be asking themselves: How do we get out of this mess (and how did we get into it in the first place)? Because as much as Americans or even the Brits might enjoy gloating in the face of this largely self-inflicted mess, the EU and its experiment with a common currency are here to stay.

For an excellent set of resources on this highly topical issue, check out our Euro keyword.

The Push for Pensions

Marching for work and retirement, photo: marcovdz/flickr

Europeans are talking about retirement. Yet, in France at least, it’s the youth who are most angry. Today the biggest protest movement since President Sarkozy took office continued for a tenth day. Airports have been disrupted, health risks have reached ‘pre-epidemic levels’ with refuse collectors on strike, even the Louvre was closed as staff blockaded the museum entrance.

The cynical readers among you will view this tête-à-tête as more déjà vu than coup d’état. Nonetheless, there remains a fundamental question in the developed world over how to balance the right to a ‘long and happy retirement’ against the gerontological and economic realities of modern times.

In financial terms it’s hard to argue with the figures. According to Allianz, a leading German financial services company, public pension expenditure for the European Union as a whole will increase to 12.8 percent by 2050. Compare this with France, Greece, or even Italy – where expenditure will increase to 25 percent of GDP by 2050 – and it seems inevitable that the budgetary axe should fall at this time of fiscal ‘belt-tightening’ across the continent. In Britain, for instance, the new measures are projected to save £5 billion a year. Furthermore the financial crisis has hit one rather traditional quirk of European retirement rights, namely that of a gender-based pension entitlement, with both the UK and Greece removing a woman’s prerogative to beat her husband to the pension pot.

However, this is one problem we can’t blame on the bankers. Aging populations are a direct result of our successful economic development – as the social, technological and cultural effects of modernization and urbanization mean lives are lengthened and people have fewer children to keep their populations youthful. As the New York Times put it in response to the protests, “it is hard to conjure a situation in which people move back to the countryside and again have larger families.” In fact, the Oxford Institute of Ageing – which published the seminal 2008 Global Ageing Survey – predicts that the West’s future search for a younger workforce will be instrumental at improving lives in the developing world, where in Africa only five percent are projected to be 65 or older in 2050 – compared to 29 percent in Europe.

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On Course with European Identity

Pieces of a European puzzle, photo: Cemre/flickr

South Wales is not renowned as a symbol of European identity. Indeed, if you were fortunate enough to watch the drama unfold at the 38th Ryder Cup last week – the biennial golfing contest between Europe and the USA – you might have missed the phenomenon occurring beyond the playing area.

Yes, what might just have passed for a raucous band of Brussels bureaucrats on tour was, in fact, a crowd of 50,000 European golf fans (many of them British) bedecked in blue and yellow – many literally wrapped in the EU flag – cheering on their team with endless chants of ‘Europe, Europe’. For this supporter, bred on a British media diet of fear and skepticism regarding the Brussels ‘takeover’, the passionate display of ‘europeanness’ was faintly startling.

Put the tournament in its proper context as the one event where Europe is represented as a single team and with a television audience of one billion people (making this the third largest sporting event in the world) and you’ll understand why President Barroso of the European Commission was positively giddy as he opened proceedings.  Remember, this is also from the perspective of a country where 71 percent want a referendum on EU membership, and of a Union to which less than half its members’ populations feel any attachment.

But what does it say about European identity when its most fervent popular expression is in a sport characterized by birdies, bogeys and bunkers? » More

Illegal Loggers, Beware

Illegal logging is a complex problem, photo courtesy of Claire L. Evans/flickr

On July 7, the European Parliament voted 644 to 25 to ban the sale of illegally logged timber and timber products from the EU market from 2012 onwards when the rule takes effect.

The passage of this ban is a tremendous achievement, the culmination of more than a decade of environmental activism and lobbying on the issue. While the ban is an important step in the right direction, the general public should not be lulled into a comforting, but false belief that the problem is getting better. The legislation affects only 20 percent of the global market for illegal timber; a significant move, but there is much more to do.

Like many environmental issues, logging is tightly bound to other problems, many endemic to developing countries (such as corruption, organized crime, poverty, environmental destruction) that are difficult to address individually, but must still be tackled with approaches that can generate multiple beneficial outcomes, such as greater transparency, better information management, the implementation and strengthening of legislative, enforcement and monitoring frameworks. As well as the creation of collaboration and information exchanges, the importance of changing consumer perspectives and demand for cheap timber and timber products cannot be overstated. » More

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